Spanish conquistadors in Mexico had to ask native smelters to make ammunition for them after supplies ran out, archaeologists discover
- Researchers in Mexico studied samples of copper slag in an old Spanish outpost
- The slag comes from improvised smelters that are used to process copper
- The smelters were led by native peoples to supply the Spanish occupiers with ammunition
Archaeologists in Mexico have recovered four centuries of artifacts showing how Spanish occupiers employed native metal workers to help them produce ammunition for their weapons and cannons.
A team of researchers from MIT and the University of Porto spent four seasons at an excavation site in El Manchón, Mexico, to study copper slag samples from improvised smelters set up by the occupying Spanish troops.
The samples show how the occupiers struggled to supply themselves with ammunition made from locally available metals to maintain the small colonial outpost at the site between 1240 and 1680.
A team of researchers from MIT and the University of Porto studied artifacts from copper smelters that indigenous artisans operated on behalf of Spanish invaders to supply them with ammunition
“They had to make deals with the native smelters.”
In Spain, metal was mainly imported from Central European countries and the occupiers did not know how to set up effective smelters to supply their ammunition.
Melting was a common practice among the indigenous people of western and central Mexico at the time.
Native people used blowpipes and small metals and clay pots called crucibles to melt copper and alloyed it with arsenic, tin and silver to produce religious and decorative objects such as bells and amulets.
In exchange for an exemption from colonial taxes levied on the general population, the Spaniards enlisted the help of these local smelting experts to produce ammunition.
The smelters turned out to be a hydrib design, using a hand-held European-style bellows to light a small furnace, with cut clay or stone channels from which the molten copper could flow
Investigators spent four seasons collecting samples from the excavation site in El Manchón, Mexico, but eventually had to suspend their efforts after the drug cartel activity in the region made it too dangerous to continue
The resulting metallurgy operation appears to be a hybrid of local and European techniques, with a hand-operated bellows made of animal skin driving a small oven that heated the copper to at least 2100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The molten copper was then led out through small channels carved in stone or clay and then formed into ammunition and other objects.
Over the years, large samples of copper slag formed around this area of the smelting plant, and analysis of the recovered samples shows that the slags could not have been produced by the lower temperature blowpipe operations that the indigenous people relied on for their own material.
Although there are still many questions about the relationship between the Spanish occupier and the indigenous people, the team had to stop investigating shortly after the drug cartel activities in the region made it unsafe for them to continue their work.
WHAT WAS THE SPANISH CONQUEST?
Supported by the Catholic monarchs of Spain, Christopher Columbus led four journeys extending the rule of the Spanish Empire to America.
Colonization started in 1492 with the arrival of Columbus in the Caribbean.
Spain’s colonial power grew continuously with settlements in Hispaniola, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
In 1513, the Spaniards expanded their influence to what is today known as Florida, the southern state of the United States.
Francisco Hernández de Córdoba led a failed invasion when he landed on the Yucatan Peninsula in 1517.
The expedition failed when his army was almost completely wiped out during a battle in the city of Champotón against the Maya.
Hernán Cortés would later be successful in conquering the Aztec empire, a battle he first started with 500 men in 1519.
The Aztects lived in Central Mexico from the 14th to the 16th centuries.
Cortés formed an alliance with other native tribes to invade the capital of the Aztec empire, Tenochtitlán.
The Spaniards would overpower the Aztec empire and conquer the last ruler Cuauhtémoc on August 13, 1521, transforming Mexico into another Spanish colony.
In 1696, King Charles II issued an order making Spanish the official language as settlers were no longer needed to learn the native languages.
Mexico began its march towards independence with a series of battles that began to brew in 1810.
It became independent in September 1821.
Mexico was the first colony whose independence was recognized by the Spaniards.